2010 Elections: As Bad For The Democrats As Everyone Thinks?

Ken AshfordElection 2010Leave a Comment

Maddow on MTP about the so-called apathetic Democrats in 2010:

"I think that the initial diagnosis that Democrats don’t care and were going to be–weren’t going to be able to turn out, that they weren’t going to be able to get off their hands and actually get out to the polls this year has turned out to be a little bit of–a little bit wrong. We’re seeing the high Democratic numbers in terms of early voting, for example. But, you know, it was less than two years ago that this country turned out and elected Barack Obama by seven points, by 10 million votes, and it was–for the second straight election, elected a hugely greater number of Democrats to Congress and the Senate than they did Republicans, and that was less than two years ago.

I don’t think the country has changed that much. We, at that time, in 2008, saw people screaming about the president’s birth certificate and imagining everybody was a Muslim and fainting at the sight of Sarah Palin. I mean, those people existed in 2008, as well, but they lost. And so I think that the narrative has been very exciting on the Republican side, but I don’t think the country has changed as much since 2008 as the narrative would suggest."

I think there is some truth to this.  Voter anger was supposed to carry Republicans to a sweeping victory, but as the remaining days of the campaign come and go, races around the country aren’t following the script.  Some of them, in fact, are quite tight.

Will the Republicans pick up seats in the House?  Yes.  A couple dozen.  But the Senate probably isn't in play anymore; the Democrats will maintain the majority.

And here's something else — another phenomenon that I think many people overlook.  The cellphone bias.  About one in four Americans are reachable only by cell phone now, and most polls do not bother with cell phone users.  And cellphones have a Republican bias.  

For the last four years, the Pew Research Center has conducted public opinion surveys involving separate, parallel samples of both landline and mobile phones. Their design allows for a comparison between combined samples of landline and cell interviews and samples based only on landline calls.

Before the 2008 election, they found that calling only landline phones introduced a "small but real" bias in favor of John McCain, an average bias of 2.3 percentage points on the margin on nine national surveys conducted between June and October of that year.

But even in the two years since 2008, that bias has grown larger.  The most recent survey in the study, conducted in late August and early September, also involved comparisons based on a subgroup of "likely voters" chosen using a traditional seven question turnout scale (similar to the classic Gallup likely voter model):

The combined landline and cell estimate produced a seven-point Republican advantage: 50% supported the GOP candidate for Congress in their district while 43% backed the Democratic candidate. The Republican lead would have been 12 points if only the landline sample had been interviewed, a significant difference from the combined sample of five points in the margin.

In other words, most polls we see out there are probably 3-5 points off, favoring the GOP.

So this might not be another 1994.  Or, at least, not as bad as 1994.